“Experience the Extraordinary Community of Careyes, Mexico”
In the Coastal Enclave of Careyes, Mexico, a community of artists, jet setters and polo players mingle in the jungle.
In 1968, an Italian banker and businessman named Gian Franco Brignone flew over a remote stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline and bought 20,000 acres sight unseen to create a Mexican sanctuary for himself and a coterie of simpatico cohorts. So begins the swashbuckling origin story of Careyes, Mexico. Brignone hired local workers to hack through the dense jungle and then engaged Mexican and Italian architects to build the free-spirited oasis where like-minded bon vivants could gather to express joie de vivre in any way they saw fit, or not at all.
Five decades later, Brignone’s vision of a non-conformist refuge bordered by jungle and ocean includes nine miles of beaches spread between craggy outcrops. There are now 40 casitas and 65 villas and ocean castles, many of which are open to the air under soaring palapa roofs, including his own home, Mi Ojo, which means My Eye in Spanish.
There are also 71 suites at the oceanfront El Careyes Club & Residences, which is where I stayed for a few days. But my Careyes experience really began before I arrived.
One of the ocean castles, Sol de Occidente
About three hours by car south of Puerto Vallarta, or 90 minutes north of Manzanillo, Careyes was not an easy commute, which I suppose was Brignone’s intention too. With winding roads and annoying speed bumps scattered what seemed like every mile, my only choice was to slow down and let Mexico unfurl around me. Eventually,
I spotted the unassuming sign: Careyes ?! FYI: that punctuation isn’t a typo. ?! is the Careyes logo, which I interpreted as curiosity and wonder. Or more specifically, “Where the #@&* am?!” and “How #@&* lucky am I to be here?!”
Turning off Highway 200 and into Careyes was like finally entering Oz after leaving Kansas. After two hours of burnt sienna and sepia-toned landscapes, suddenly life hummed in technicolor again.
The pink bougainvillea looked practically neon as did the green grass, and Volkswagen-sized lush leafy bushes and palms waved in a persistent sea breeze. While Careyes might look like a resort at first glance, it’s not. Ask anyone around and they’re quick to clarify that “Careyes is a community.”
The non-resort community is the opposite of the unimaginative elbow-to-elbow compounds you might find in other Mexican beach locales. Careyes’ now 36,000 acres are dominated by nature, where only three percent of the land is developed. Step away from the guacamole dip and you’ll find prehistoric-looking iguanas and raccoon-like tejones scurrying up trees and crossing the sand.
Four species of sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches of Careyes too. In fact, the name Careyes means tortoise shell in Spanish, and the creatures are protected by the active Careyes Foundation, which also supports people in twelve surrounding villages via various immersive programs, including English lessons and art workshops.
Casa Selva is one of many private homes for rent
The privacy of Careyes has made it a popular escape for jet setters and stars like Mick Jagger, Audrey Tatou, and Cindy Crawford, among other A-listers. Seal and Heidi Klum got married on the beach way back when. And Richard Gere was rumored to be lurking about during my stay, though I am not sure I’d have recognized him had he offered to buy me a margarita. (Psst! Richard, next time?!).
About 60 creatives, professionals, and wellness gurus live here full-time, while other property owners (a blend of mostly Europeans, Mexicans, and North Americans) rotate in, especially for the unique events that Careyes puts on, such as Ondalinda, a small and exclusive annual art and music festival that blends the mystery of Venice carnival with the unbridled debauchery of Burning Man. They hold an annual Chinese New Year celebration (?!) in January and professional polo matches take place on Careyes’ two regulation-size polo fields, the largest in Mexico.
You don’t have to own a home in Careyes to enjoy it, though trust me, you’ll want to start buying lottery tickets, stat! Visitors can book anything from one-bedroom casitas to gob-smacking clifftop castles with moat-like infinity pools, each owned by a Brignone disciple lucky enough to call this slice of paradise home. Brignone died last year at the age of 96, but his children continue to propel his vision and legacy, part of which is a cheeky set of rules for those who want to live or visit Careyes. “Speak more than one language” makes the list as does, “Have will, love, and fantasy in your life.”
I was slightly disappointed no one quizzed me upon arrival.
Colorful Casitas were built to resemble Positano, Italy
I met one of Brignone’s sons, Giorgio, at Mi Ojo. Our encounter was brief, but he called Careyes “primitive luxury”. found that to be a great descriptor. While there is nothing crude about the amenities of Careyes, the place is just big enough to have options and just different enough to feel as if you’re a part of something unique.
I found my personal primitive luxury at the Copa del Sol, the cup of the sun, yet another quirky whim of Brignone’s. He built the 88-foot-wide cement bowl perched on a cliff overlooking the sea as an ode to a woman. I climbed in at sunset and lay still on my back for an hour, eyes closed, while a sound healer worked her magic. Unusual? Yes! My kind of luxury? Absolutely!
That luxury isn’t Michelin stars, beauty-branded spa treatments, and 24/7 room service is precisely the point of Careyes. Here, in a paradise hewn from the Mexican jungle, the ultimate luxury is that it’s yours to discover and define, and there’s nothing more ?! than that.
Turtles are protected and released on Playa Teopa
BeSeeingYou In: Careyes, Mexico
Good to know: Manzanillo airport is only about 90 minutes away by car.
Wow! Factor: Book a tour of some of the homes. You won’t be disappointed.
Tip: Pack snacks. All accommodations have kitchens, but there’s not much around in terms of stocking up when you get there.
Author bio: Kimberley Lovato